2nd woman sentenced in abuse case

NASHUA – A city woman was sentenced Friday to 12 months in jail for taking part in the torture of her companion’s 10-year-old daughter, and failing to report the abuse.

Chrisias France, 46, of 72B Kinsley St., received the maximum sentence possible under the terms of her plea bargain.

Judge David Sullivan told France she should consider herself lucky, as he had seldom seen such “heartlessness and depravity” as the abuse inflicted on the girl.

The girl’s mother, Theresa Bergeron, pleaded guilty to felony assault charges, and is now serving two to 10 years in prison.

The girl’s foster parents attended France’s plea and sentencing, but declined to comment on the case, except to say that the girl is now doing well.

France pleaded guilty Tuesday in Hillsborough County Superior Court to charges of simple assault, failure to report child abuse and evidence tampering. Her sentencing was delayed to give her lawyer, James Dennehy, time to research France’s claim that she had reported the alleged abuse to state authorities in the summer of 2006.

The Division of Children Youth and Families keeps records of any and all such reports, Sullivan said, but there is no record that France ever called, Dennehy said.

School officials and a neighbor of the couple did report the alleged abuse to DCYF on five different occasions, however, DCYF deemed the first four reports “unfounded,” and took no action.

“DCYF had been out to the house many times. The position taken by DCYF was exactly the opposite of the position taken by the Nashua School District,” whose staff urged DCYF to get the girl out of the home, Dennehy said. “DCYF kept coming out to the house, and they found it unfounded.”

First Assistant County Attorney Roger Chadwick said it’s unfair to blame the agency for failing to stop the abuse, given the balancing act that state law imposes upon it.

“They are given sort of an impossible mission: keep the kids safe but you’ve got to reunify them (with the parents),” he said. “You don’t want to take them out of the house unless you are absolutely certain.”

Prosecutors said Bergeron routinely forced her daughter to stand at attention, partially clothed, for hours on end in their Salem Street apartment, and used a fan and sprayed her with water to keep her awake. The girl was sometimes forced to write several hundred lines, repeating the same phrase, while standing.

Bergeron also locked the girl in her room at night with no bedding or clothes, blocked the heat vent in her room, and kept her from using the bathroom, prosecutors said. She also admitted to starving the girl, by feeding her nothing but Cheerios.

Staff at Mount Pleasant Elementary School called police and DCYF in December 2006 after discovering the girl’s feet were severely bruised and swollen, and that she was exhausted from having been forced to stand awake for two nights in a row.

Having reviewed the DCYF and case records, Sullivan told France her case was among the worst he’d seen in all his years on the bench.

“Ms. France, you’re lucky that you took this plea. I would have sentenced you to a lot more,” Sullivan said. “The amount of suffering that you are going to suffer sitting in jail for eight months is miniscule compared to what this girl was put through.”

France could serve just eight months in jail if she gets time off for good behavior.

“I would have hammered you with a stand committed state prison sentence if I’d had my druthers,” Sullivan said.

Prosecutors said they negotiated the plea deals with Bergeron and France in order to spare the girl, now 12, from having to testify against them at trial, and thus relive the abuse.

France admitted to spraying the girl with water on one occasion, and throwing away the foil and duct tape that was secured over the heat vent in her room. She also admitted to failing to report the abuse, though claiming that she had done so, at one point.

Dennehy said France suffers from major depression and multiple sclerosis, and he expressed concern that she won’t receive adequate medical care in jail.

France will remain on probation for a year after she gets out, and a consecutive one- to seven-year prison sentence will remain suspended for three years so long as she stays out of trouble.

She will be required to undergo anger management counseling, and to have no contact with children, but for her own children and grandchildren.

Had France been able to show that she reported the abuse, Sullivan said, “it would make a huge difference.” Sullivan and Chadwick said they don’t fault Dennehy for relating her claim.

“I’m not impugning Mr. Dennehy. He has to listen to his client; that’s his job,” Chadwick said.

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or awolfe@nashuatelegraph.com.